Old-time gambling and new-age Tom Fazio golf making nowhere somewhere in Primm

By Chris Baldwin, Contributor

PRIMM, Nev. - Walking through the Primm Valley casino on the way to a round of morning golf, you notice several already bleary-eyed individuals who obviously spent the night camped out at a bank of slot machines. Returning from the round five hours later, you quickly realize that at least three of these individuals have apparently not moved in the intervening 300 or so minutes.

This is the kind of place the Primm Valley Resort & Casino is. It is a hardcore gambler's delight, giving you the game without much of that touristy Vegas glitz. Primm Valley does not try to wow you with a high-tech sports book. It gives you the game odds on an old-fashioned poster board and a bar full of guys who look grayer than the 3:30 p.m. dinner crowd in Florida. Primm Valley does not showcase fountains shooting as high as skyscrapers or stone Roman gladiators lurching to life. Instead it shows off an almost quaintly low-tech Bonnie & Clyde exhibit, including one of the duo's bullet-ridden cars.

All of which does not make Primm Valley a bad place to wile away a few days playing golf. In some ways, it is a welcome break from the overpowering blitz of Las Vegas. More importantly, with two Tom Fazio-designed courses tied to the casino complex, it is hard to find a cheaper place to stay and play high-quality golf in the Vegas valley.

Rooms can be had in the most expensive of Primm's three hotels for $43 on regular specials.

Plus, Primm is right on the California-Nevada border, an easy stop for travelers on the LA to Vegas frequent fun-trip commute.

"We get a lot of repeat business from California,'' said Primm Valley Golf Club assistant pro Charles Fralix. "Groups that come back every year, year after year."

The whole Primm experience can be comforting in an anti-ritzy way. There are shops for the non-golfing wife or husband to spend an afternoon browsing in. Only instead of gawking at the prices at Tiffany or Chanel, you can peruse the discounts at an Old Navy outlet or find out which sports teams' hats really don't sell at LIDS. And for those who yearn for the high end at everyman prices there is also a Neiman Marcus Last Call and a Versace.

And all it takes to get to all this commerce is a quick walk through Primm's casino, past the wax Tommy Gun-toting Bonnie & Clyde and down an escalator. Primm is made for easy walking, unlike the gargantuan Vegas casinos that attempt to keep you confused in their property maze for as long as possible.

"It's the kind of place a regular guy can go and feel at home," said Chuck Schwartz, who makes frequent trips to Primm from the Vegas suburbs. "You can be here gambling in your work clothes and not feel uncomfortable. This place is nice like that."

This place is literally nowhere. Primm is only a spot on the map because a shrewd, far-forward-thinking businessman named Ernest Primm made it one. Ernest bought 800 acres of land from the U.S. government for $15,000, back long before Vegas became the entertainment goliath it is today. Primm's rather humble beginning consisted of a 12-room motel and 12 slot machines. That's right, the whole casino was 12 slot machines. One machine for every room.

Now there are three casino hotels on site with nearly 3,000 rooms, 11 restaurants and a roller coaster named Desperado that draws roller coaster enthusiasts from far and wide (it debuted as the U.S.'s tallest and fastest coaster).

Yet there is little doubt the Fazio golf is the highlight attraction. The wax Bonnie & Clyde on Desperado could not catch up to this unnatural wonder. These are two courses that do not concede anything to Vegas' tracks. Fazio was handed more than $45 million to use in constructing the Lakes Course out of bedrock desert and an old long-ago-dried-up lake bed, and the money shows. It is possible to get lost in the feeling you're in Minneapolis or some other Midwest tree-heavy patch once you get into this layout. Throw in the fact that it may be the most forgiving Fazio you'll ever find and it is easy to see why the Lakes is a crowd pleaser.

"Playing a round here is almost like taking a vacation from Vegas," golfer John Benton said.

The Desert Course is not as soothing, but it is more enjoyable. Fazio forces you to think over your club selection, think over your approach strategy. Nothing is quite cut and dried in Fazio's Desert. There is plenty of trouble to find, plenty of different avenues in which to construct an escape.

Escaping is what Primm is all about after all. For some, it is a short retreat from the Vegas glitz. For others, it is a welcome oasis on a long journey through. For many, this land of old-time gambling and new-age Tom Fazio golf remains something of a mystery, however.

Mention Primm to many golfers and they'll give you a What You Talking About stare.

There are signs that nowhere could be becoming a golf somewhere, though.

"More and more people are starting to find their way out here," Fralix said. "That's a good sign you're doing something right."

Hard to tell if that would make Bonnie & Clyde or Tom Fazio more proud.

Chris BaldwinChris Baldwin, Contributor

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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